This week is National Reconciliation Week, first celebrated in 1996. In the words of Reconciliation Australia, it’s a time to “reflect on our accomplishments so far and on what must still be done to achieve reconciliation”. Reconciliation is a journey and up until now has been a long one. This year’s theme for Reconciliation Week is “let’s take the next steps”.
As Indigenous Leader Patrick Dodson says, “The river is the river and the sea is the sea. Salt water and fresh, two separate domains. Each has its own complex patterns, origins, stories. Even though they come together they will always exist in their own right. Our hope for Reconciliation is like that.”
Supporting reconciliation means working to overcome the division (often called the gap) and inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The divide is still there, particularly in health, income, living standards and life expectancy. But also prejudice and racism which is still found in Australia.
I am one of five children and the only one with blue eyes and fair skin; I really stand out in the family photos. But I am proud to be an Aboriginal woman, a descendant of the Wadja people near Gladstone in Queensland and I identify as an Aboriginal person within the Bundjalung people of the Tweed Valley.
I have worked for KPMG for nearly 30 years and as you can imagine I have seen numerous changes in attitudes towards reconciliation and hopefully I will continue to see more changes going forward.
To put reconciliation into a more personal perspective, I would like to take you on my mother’s journey.
During my mother’s life time she has seen her father subjected to ridicule and bigotry from marrying my white grandmother and as a direct result watching her family disinherit her. Again while serving in the military and fighting for his country when coming home on leave he was forced to sit on the floor at the local cinema, in uniform, with his children. They were not allowed to sit on the seats because of the colour of their skin.
At school my mother was advised by her teachers to tell people you are Indian – “you will be treated better”. It was not until after I was born (and this is showing my age) that in 1962 my mother was allowed to vote and even later in 1967 before she was counted in the census.
My mother graduated from university with a Master’s Degree in Education and only two years ago, at the age of 75, decided to retire.
This wonderful proud Indigenous woman in one of the strongest advocates of reconciliation. She has passed onto her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a strong belief that education is golden and you are never too late to learn. To be proud of your heritage and treat everyone the way you want to be treated.
KPMG Australia over the last 10 years has committed to be a conduit for resources and support for reconciliation in Australia. Our update of our Reconciliation Action Plan as an elevate RAP is a strong foundation for future success and I recommend that everyone should take the opportunity to read it.
There is no future for Australia without reconciliation, and while we still have a long way to go, the tide is starting to turn and even by taking small steps, the journey is still achievable.
Your skin colour doesn’t define you – your actions in life and your choices are what define you.